MILWAUKEE — Due to the recent rise in anti-Asian hate crimes, the Hmong American Friendship Association, in Milwaukee's Near West Side neighborhood, is using donated funds to provide education and support to locals.
New data from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism found that reports of Anti-Asian hate crimes grew 339% nationwide in 2021, when compared to the year before.
"Shocking. It's really shocking," said Lo Neng Kiatoukaysy, Executive Director of the Hmong American Friendship Association. "Things like this should not be happening. But, it's happening."
The hate is causing both fear and tension.
Kiatoukaysy says that reality has him working hard to bring the local Asian-American community together to find common understanding of the "do's and don'ts" while dealing with hate.
"As for our young kids, they want to get even. They want to get revenge. Whereas our older folks, they say 'hey hold on. Let's take a look at this issue, we can't play fire with fire,'" said Kiatoukaysy.
Following the shootings of 6 Asian-American women at 3 Atlanta-area spas in March of 2021, Associated Bank gave the Hmong American Friendship Association $10,000. The money offered Kiatoukaysy and the association a chance to put together workshops for the community.
"We teach our community how to recognize hate crimes, how to report it, how to catalog it," he said.
There's also a 24/7 hotline set up for people to call and report potential hate crimes. That number is 414-465-9504.
Kiatoukaysy said there has been a significant increase in calls.
"Sometimes it's a simple thing, a neighbor dispute. Sometimes it's going to the grocery store and being mocked. Being called ch*k or Asian or whatever," he said.
The workshops and the additional resources are helping send a big message to the local Asian-American community. That they are not alone.
It's a message Kiatoukaysy feels personally.
"5 months ago, I experienced hate crime," he said.
He was visiting a friend of 30 years in his hometown back in Minnesota when he found himself being mocked at restaurant.
"I was making my way from my table to the bathroom and I saw 3 guys making fun of me, you know, doing things with their hands, facial expressions," said Kiatoukaysy.
His friend, a white man, stepping in to shut down the mockery. But, Kiatoukaysy said he had a revelation in that moment.
"Being Asian in this day, it's really hard," he said. "I can speak English, I am educated. What about the people who are not educated? Or who are not well-versed in American culture and they got into this situation? Or what if I don't have my big friend who stood up for me?"
In addition to providing the community with resources, Kiatoukaysy has a request of non-Asian Americans as well.
"If you see people in trouble, please do help," he said.
A call for community awareness to a problem that is growing coast-to-coast.
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